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US Encouraged by Aung San Suu Kyi's Continued Freedom - 2002-05-17

The Bush administration says it is encouraged that Burma's military leaders have so far kept their promise to allow democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to travel freely, and it is urging them to open talks with her party on political reform.

Given Aung San Suu Kyi's repeated periods of detention and house arrest over the years, U.S. officials have been cautious about whether her release this month marks a permanent step towards reconciliation by the military leadership.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed the fact she was allowed Friday to visit one of her party's offices outside central Rangoon - the first test of her promised new freedoms and expressed hope there will be a further easing of political conditions in the country.

"We are encouraged that the regime is living up to its commitment to allow Aung San Suu Kyi freedom of movement," he said. "We urge the regime to continue progress by scheduling substantive talks soon with Aung San Suu Kyi and with the National League for Democracy to move forward in political reform and national reconciliation."

Though it warmly welcomed Ms. Suu Kyi's release from 19 months of house arrest, the Bush administration has made no move to ease a wide array of U.S. sanctions and investment restrictions imposed against Burma over the years because of its human rights record.

But earlier this week, the Bush administration said it would work with Congress to provide funds, to be administered through the U.N. and other non-governmental organizations, for combating the serious AIDS problem in Burma.

Also this week, a senior member of the Burmese military, Colonel Kyaw Thien, met with mid-level officials of the State Department and several other agencies in Washington to discuss the country's drug eradication efforts.

The State Department said the colonel's visit was unrelated to, and planned before, the release of Ms. Suu Kyi and that agenda of the meetings was limited to drug issues.

However, a member of the House international relations committee, Democrat Tom Lantos, said in a letter to the State Department that hosting the Burmese officer was a "profound mistake" in that it gave the impression the United States was already softening its stand toward the Burmese leadership.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also met this week with the U.N. special envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, who said Thursday Ms. Suu Kyi's release has started momentum for change in Burma, and the world community should push for an early transition to democracy.